Dustoff 7-3: Saving Lives Under Fire in Afghanistan; by Erik Sabiston

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MWSA Review

A quick and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Dustoff 7-3 by Erik Sabiston will not sit unread on your bedside table for long. Instead, you'll find yourself tearing through the pages. The book focuses on a short but intense tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010. Sabiston is pilot in command—or as he puts it, "locked in the cockpit of a big, vibrating sauna"—of a Medevac (or "Dustoff") UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. 

The book's first five words are written in all caps and set the stage for what is to follow:  I AM NOT A HERO. Although the author is documenting his own hair-raising experiences flying Medevac missions in combat, he does not dwell on his own thoughts and actions. Instead, Sabiston goes out of his way to acknowledge others, his fellow crew members and those in the line combat organizations he serves, especially the ones having "the worst day of their lives" and needing his unique set of skills. 

This book is quite realistic. So much so that the reader will be immersed in the action and introduced to all the acronyms and lingo used by Army medical evacuation units: PC, TOC, Wobbly One, Meat Servo, to mention just a few. Keeping track of it all can be a bit daunting, but worth the effort, especially when combined with the author's unique sense of humor. For example, I've read many similes for what it's like to hover a helicopter; but none quite like the author's. He likens hovering to "riding a unicycle on top of a bowling ball while juggling three rabid raccoons and reciting the alphabet backwards while you're half-drunk."

The author's sense of humor and matter-of-fact writing style combine to make his highly-skilled and dangerous job seem almost routine. He fairly easily inserts the reader into near-unbelievable situations. Despite his self-depreciating humor and understated style of writing, the author's (and the others with whom he serves) bravery and professionalism come through loud and clear in Dustoff 7-3. 

I recommend this book for readers who want to learn about today's U.S. Army Medevac mission, and especially their role in the battles taking place in Afghanistan.
MWSA Reviewer: John Cathcart


Author's Synopsis

This book is for heroes.

Dustoff 7-3 tells the true story of four unlikely heroes in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, where medics are forced to descend on wires to reach the wounded and helicopter pilots must fight wind, weather, and enemy fire to pluck casualties from some of the world’s most difficult combat arenas. Complete opposites thrown together, cut off, and outnumbered, Chief Warrant Officer Erik Sabiston and his flight crew answered the call in a race against time, not to take lives—but to save them.

The concept of evacuating wounded soldiers by helicopter developed in the Korean War and became a staple during the war in Vietnam where heroic, unarmed chopper crews flew vital missions known to the grateful grunts on the ground as Dustoffs.

The crew of Dustoff 7-3 carried on that heroic tradition, flying over a region that had seen scores of American casualties, known among veterans as the Valley of Death. At the end of Operation Hammer Down, they had rescued 14 soldiers, made three critical supply runs, recovered two soldiers killed in action, and nearly died. It took all of three days.